Sculpting a Great Notion with Phish Festival Artist Lars Fisk (Relix Revisited)
Here’s an interview originally slated to appear in the Sunday edition of the Coventry Courier, the newspaper we created for Phish’s festival in August 2004. For Trey Anastasio’s more recent conversation with Lars on the Super Ball IX site, click here.
From half-buried Big Boy to interactive rock gardens, the living-art environment that Lars Fisk creates has been an essential element of every Phish festival, defining them from each other and from all other live music events. Only Phish's IT festival had a Sunken City. Only Phish's Great Went had an "Elephant Walk." And only Coventry has a Back Forty.
For months before each festival, Fisk works with a team of co-creators in building the interactive art installations and thematic visual decorations that make your weekend here complete. In other words, they've built the cities that have become all of our playgrounds for one weekend each year. And their intent is all for our delight.
Benjy: Can I get you to introduce yourself and explain your role in these festivals?
Lars: I am a sculptor and originally hitched up with the band in about 1996 when their management company moved their offices across the street from where my sculptor shop was. So just out of neighborly-ness they invited me to take part in their first big outdoor show. That was the Clifford Ball. And from there my role just became sort of an art director position where I became the fellow that would oversee all of the visual design elements. So, that's my story.
Benjy: Were you familiar with Phish’s music before then?
Lars: Oh sure, yeah. I'm a Vermonter, and going to college at UVM, they were definitely on the radar. I'd go down and see the band at the local Burlington bars. So yeah, I was a fan before I was an employee.
Benjy: Each festival has a central theme or themes laced throughout. Can you talk about the process of coming up with them?
Lars: It most always has to do with sight. It is sight-specific thematics, I'd say. We find a location and we go there and we get the vibe of the place and we see what the site is all about as far as what sort of people live there, what they do, what the land seems to say about itself and we go from there, typically.
Benjy: I’ve heard people have deep and meaningful conversations about some of the past themes and then I’ve also heard people take it on a silly or whimsical level. Do you delve into that dichotomy or discuss it at all?
Lars: Yeah, absolutely. But a lot of it is sort of symbolism that comes from the whimsical. It starts first with the ridiculous and the absurd. And then around that we create icons out of these whimsies. Basically we're inventing our own symbolism usually, as we go. So if one person comes up with a notion to disguise a giant water tank, then the next person might say, Well, one way to disguise it would be to put a giant pair of Groucho Marx glasses on it.' I mean, that's just a typically known 50 cent disguise that everybody's seen before. From there we kind of riff from that point and build it up to become a symbol. By the time you build it, at sixty feet across, it becomes serious. You can't help but to revere it as a serious symbol. But then again, in the wider look of things, it's really just the site that determines the scene and it all winds around that.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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